We are about to adopt a dog and have been researching the options for puppy school. What is the difference between going to the vet or pet shop for puppy school and joining a club where they offer puppy school?
Over recent years there has been a boom in puppy schools, where now most vets and many pet shops will offer puppy school. There are differences between puppy schools run at such places, and going to a dog club for puppy school. My preference would always be to go to a dog club that you have visited and feel comfortable with.
Pet shops and vet clinics are not designed for dog training. Their physical set up is usually small, meaning that your dog cannot escape if they are fearful. Such limited room can also create problems where dogs are too close together and are therefore too distracted to learn. Small spaces can be overwhelming for some dogs and their owners, and if this is your dogs first experience with other dogs it may not be very positive.
Limited space also means that there is limited room for socialisation. Your puppy will spend most of its time on lead and this can lead to unwanted behaviours such as barking, chewing, jumping, straining on the lead and biting. It also means that you will be unable to train your dog off lead, and if you cannot train your dog off lead you will not learn how to gain off lead control.
Most puppy schools also have only one instructor available for several puppies. This ratio is not ideal when you and your dog are trying to learn something for the first time. You may find that you become lost in the crowd. Good learning theory suggests that in order to successfully learn a behaviour, distractions need to be kept to a minimum, this is difficult in a small space with only one instructor to several dogs.
There is an advantage to puppy school held at the vet, and that is your puppy (if they have enjoyed puppy school) will love going to the vet clinic. You can however do this yourself, I would advise any owner of a puppy to be visiting their vet clinic as often as possible. Put your puppy on the scales, weigh them, let the staff have a cuddle and leave. The visits only need to be short and positive for a great association to build.
Dog clubs on the other hand are set up specifically for puppy school. They are usually outdoors, have lots of space, and tend to go in to more obedience skills than you would get at the vet or pet shop.
The perfect puppy school is one that has lots of out door space, grass, trees, bushes etc. It has time for all of the puppies to interact freely off lead, and you should have your own instructor teaching you and supervising the socialisation time with you. Your lessons should consist of basic skills like sit, come, heel, watch me, drop and stay, all done on and off lead. You should also have time to work on problem areas, questions and/or concerns you may have with your new puppy. One-on-one tuition is a recipe for success.
In some ways I feel we are doing a disservice to owners and each other in the pet dog industry by offering puppy school at vets and pet shops. A disservice to the owners and dogs by not having the best possible environment for a bunch of puppies, and a disservice to each other in the pet industry by offering puppy school in spaces that were never designed for such activity. A similarity would be dog clubs taking on the immunisation of dogs, that is not our role.
In an ideal world your vet or pet shop worker should refer you on to the nearest dog club for puppy school. They could also have information nights (without puppies) on responsible dog ownership, as the information you can get at vet clinics and pet shops can be very good.
Wendy, as long as you go in to your choice informed you should not be surprised by anything. Look for lots and lots of space at puppy school, low (3:1) ratios, or one-on-one training, and supportive, encouraging instructors. Don’t forget that after completing puppy school it is important that you continue your training throughout your dogs first few years, and you will be able to do this seamlessly at a dog club.